Ruling

04455-16 HRH Princess Beatrice of York v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      18th November 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 04455-16 HRH Princess Beatrice of York v Mail Online

Summary of complaint 

1.    HRH Princess Beatrice of York complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Beatrice makes a splash on yet ANOTHER day off! Princess dives into the sea in a very skimpy bikini as she enjoys a sunshine break on a yacht in Monaco”, published on 27 June 2016. 

2.    The article reported that the complainant had been “spotted on board luxury yacht with long term boyfriend”. It included a number of grainy photographs of the complainant on board the yacht in a bikini and swimming in the sea near to the boat. The photographs included those which showed the complainant removing a kaftan before swimming, applying sun tan lotion to her boyfriend’s shoulders, showering on the deck of the yacht and drying herself with a towel. The photographs were accompanied by captions. 

3.    The complainant said that the photographs were taken surreptitiously in circumstances in which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy; she was on a private boat when the photographs were taken, and was on a private holiday, undertaking private leisure activities. Those on board the boat were not visible to the naked eye from the shore, and the photographs had been taken with a long lens. The complainant also expressed concern that the photographs showed her wearing a bikini. She said that the article included comments on her appearance, and her attire. She said that to comment on her appearance was a further intrusion. 

4.    The complainant expressed further concern about readers’ comments posted on the article. She said that a number of these had made explicit or abusive reference to her appearance, and that this represented a further intrusion into her privacy. 

5.    The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the photographs did not include any private information about the complainant; she had previously been photographed in a bikini on a number of occasions. It denied that the article included intrusive comment on the complainant’s appearance, and noted that the only comment on the complainant’s appearance was one reference in a caption to her “hourglass curves”. It did not accept that this comment was intrusive, and said that the complainant’s mother and personal trainer had previously spoken to the press about the complainant’s appearance. 

6.    The publication did not accept that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to her location when the photographs were taken. The complainant had been spotted heading out to sea the previous day, and so the photographer had gone to the port to photograph the yacht. The photographs had been taken from the shore using a 600mm lens, and had been cropped by the agency prior to submission. The boat had been anchored approximately 200m from the shore, with the public areas of the deck facing the shore, and visible to the naked eye. The complainant had been swimming from an area of the yacht that was at sea level, and not obstructed from view. There had been another boat in the vicinity at the time the photographs were taken. The photographs had been taken from public land, close to the port of Monaco, and the boat was visible from a public foot path, as well as apartments, villas and other boats. The publication noted that Monaco was a popular summer location for celebrities, and those holidaying there might expect photographers to be present. 

7.    The publication noted that user-generated comments did not fall within IPSO’s remit until they were brought to the publication’s attention. In this case, while it regretted that the complainant had been upset by unflattering comments about her appearance, it did not believe that these breached the terms of Clause 2. Nonetheless, it had removed the comments on receipt of the complaint. It also offered to remove the photographs as a means of resolving the complaint. 

8.    The complainant did not accept this offer. She said that the publication should apologise for publishing the photographs. 

Relevant Code provisions 

9.    Clause 2 (Privacy) 

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications. 

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information. 

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

Findings of the Committee 

10. The Code does not prohibit the use of long-lens photography. However, the use of a long lens may be a relevant factor when the Committee considers whether there has been an intrusion into an individual’s privacy in a particular situation. 

11. The photographs did not show the complainant engaged in any official duties. The series of images showed her undressing, preparing to swim, jumping into the sea, swimming, showering, drying herself with a towel, socialising with friends, and applying sun tan lotion to her partner’s shoulders while dressed in a bikini. These were activities which formed part of her private life, and the effect of publication of a large number of images was to show in considerable detail the activities in which she was engaged. 

12. It was accepted, by the publication, that the boat had been anchored around 200m from the shoreline, and that it had been necessary to use a long lens in order to photograph the complainant. The fact that the photographs had been taken with professional equipment but yet were of low quality, and had been cropped prior to submission by the agency, indicated that they had been taken from a considerable distance. The Committee was not therefore satisfied that the complainant had been identifiable to those on the shore, notwithstanding the fact that it was possible to see the yacht itself with the naked eye, and that there was another boat in the vicinity. The complainant had not been aware that the photographs were being taken. 

13. Having regard for all these factors, the Committee was satisfied that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time the photographs were taken. 

14. The taking and publishing of these photographs of the complainant, wearing a bikini, which the Committee noted placed a gratuitous and invasive focus on parts of the complainant’s body which would not ordinarily be subject to public scrutiny, represented a serious intrusion into her privacy. 

15.  As the Code makes clear, photographing an individual in such circumstances is unacceptable unless it can be justified in the public interest. The publication had not argued that there was a public interest in the publication of the photographs. Rather, it argued that there had been no intrusion, as the complainant had been photographed wearing a bikini in the past and had not complained. The complainant was entitled to be concerned about details of her private life being exposed to scrutiny without her knowledge or consent, and the fact that photographs had previously been published showing her engaged in similar activities did not alter her right to privacy in these specific circumstances. The publication had not been able to justify the extent of the intrusion, and the complaint under Clause 2 was upheld. 

16. User-generated content, including reader comments, falls within IPSO’s remit once it has been reviewed or moderated by the publication. In this case, readers’ comments were removed from the article once they had been brought to the publication’s attention and subjected to review. This content therefore fell outside of IPSO’s remit. 

Conclusions 

17. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial action required 

18. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. 

19. Where the Committee has upheld a complaint as a breach of Clause 2, the appropriate remedial action is the publication of an adjudication. 

20. The adjudication should be published on the publication’s website, with a link to it (including the headline) being published on the homepage for 24 hours. It should then be archived in the usual way. The headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, and refer to its subject matter; it must be agreed in advance. The publication should contact IPSO to confirm the amendments it now intends to make to the online article to avoid the continued publication of material in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. 

21. The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows: 

Following an article published on Mail Online on 27 June 2016 headlined “Beatrice makes a splash on yet ANOTHER day off! Princess dives into the sea in a very skimpy bikini as she enjoys a sunshine break on a yacht in Monaco”, HRH Princess Beatrice of York complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required Mail Online to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach. 

The article reported that the complainant had been “spotted on board luxury yacht with long term boyfriend”. It included a number of grainy photographs of the complainant on board the yacht in a bikini, and swimming in the sea. 

The complainant said that the photographs were taken surreptitiously in circumstances in which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy; she was on a private boat when the photographs were taken, and was on a private holiday, undertaking private leisure activities. Those on board the boat were not visible to the naked eye from the shore, and the photographs had been taken with a long lens. The complainant also expressed concern that the photographs showed her partially clothed and were accompanied by comments on her appearance, and her lack of clothing. 

The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the photographs did not include any private information about the complainant, as she had previously been photographed in a bikini. It did not accept that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to her location when the photographs were taken. It said that the photographs of the boat, which was anchored approximately 200m from the shore, had been taken using a 600mm lens, and had been cropped by the agency prior to submission. It said the public areas of the deck had been facing the shore, and were visible to the naked eye, and that the photographs had been taken from public land. It also noted that the complainant had been swimming from an area of the yacht that was at sea level, and not obstructed from view, and that there had been another boat in the vicinity at the time the photographs were taken. 

The Committee noted that while the Code does not prohibit the use of long-lens photography, the use of a long lens may be a relevant factor when the Committee considers whether there had been an intrusion into an individual’s privacy. The photographs did not show the complainant engaged in any official duties, and displayed her taking part in activities which formed part of her private life. The fact that the photographs had been taken with professional equipment but yet were of low quality, and had been cropped prior to submission, indicated that they had been taken from a considerable distance. The Committee was not therefore satisfied that the complainant had been visible to those on the shore, or had been aware that the photographs were being taken. Having regard for all these factors, the Committee was satisfied that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time the photographs were taken. The taking and publishing of these photographs of the complainant, wearing a bikini, which the Committee noted placed a gratuitous and invasive focus on parts of the complainant’s body which would not ordinarily be subject to public scrutiny, represented a serious intrusion into the complainant’s privacy. As the Code makes clear, photographing an individual in such circumstances is unacceptable unless it can be justified in the public interest. The publication had not argued that there was a public interest in the publication of the photographs, and had been unable to justify the extent of the intrusion; the complaint under Clause 2 was upheld.

Date complaint received: 28/06/2016

Date decision issued: 01/11/2016